Writer Alex Hammond. Photo: Paul AllisterBuy now on Booktopia
Alex Hammond is quite happy to admit he’s living somewhat vicariously through his protagonist Will Harris. Harris is a Melbourne defence lawyer, defending some of the city’s worst criminals, caught up in corruption at the highest levels, facing danger at every turn.
Hammond laughs and says he was a mere insurance lawyer when he was practising law, after graduating from Melbourne University.
“I always wanted to practise ice criminal law but found myself falling into insurance law,” he says.
“That’s not nearly as exciting, who’s going to read a book about an insurance lawyer.”
Either way he has always been fascinated about the grey areas of the law, the play between the law and justice, and the idea of a fair trial.
“What I’m trying to do is explore the ideas of legal ethics and the rationale behind why a lawyer would defend reprehensible people, the idea that everybody’s entitled to a fair trial, particularly when they’ve done something terrible.
“Looking at this from the point of view of a character who’s a defence lawyer intrigued me as well, what’s his motivation. Will is a lawyer who will break the law to see that justice is done, that’s what makes him so fun to write about.”
Hammond, 39, was at a crossroads not long after leaving university. He had a clerkship on a major class-action trial in Melbourne and had been offered articles with the firm he was working for, but he knew his heart wasn’t in it.
“I had to ask myself if I was passionate about the law,” he says.
“I had always wanted to write, ever since I was small, and when I was offered another job as an editor at Melbourne University, I switched to work in the world of words, if you like.
“And that afforded me the time to write, more than a law career would have, to write around that job, to spend time on my first novel and to play with the law at the same time seemed to make sense.”
Hammond’s first novel, Blood Witness was published in 2014 and was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Time Crime Novel. Judges described it as “a gripping legal thriller” saying it was “original and tightly written”.
Hammond found coming back to Harris a year later with The Unbroken Line was more challenging than he thought it would be.
“Writing the next in a series, I kept thinking about how much I should reference the first book but at the same time I wanted new readers to be able to pick this one up and not feel as though they had missed out on something.”
The third book in the series has already been written and Hammond also wrote an on-spec screenplay based on the first two books which has been optioned for a television series. He references the recent ABC series The Code and the optioning of Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis’ The Mandarin Code, saying that it’s great to see narratives such as those on television rather than “more cooking shows, more property shows”.
“And for me as a crime watcher and a crime reader to get a good espionage story on the television, something with a political bent, is a great thing, even better that it’s set in Australia.”
Hammond says he has worked hard to try to capture “his Melbourne” in the series.
“It’s quite a compelling city to set a series in. There’s this stark contrast between the wealthy upper end of town and then you head out into the outer suburbs and buildings aren’t being maintained, shop fronts are boarded up, you can see the impact the economy is having on people.”
He thinks people enjoy crime novels and legal thrillers because it allows them to explore darker aspects of human nature from “a safe zone”.
“But, increasingly, people don’t want the neat ending because they’re realistic enough to know that’s not how life works. A lot of crime doesn’t end up resolved, violent people walk free, and that line between the law and justice is more blurred than ever before.”
The Unbroken Line, by Alex Hammond. (Michael Joseph, $32.99.)
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.